New MDX lighter, loaded with gadgets galore
Acura put its popular MDX sport-utility on a serious diet, tweaked its dimensions a bit and in the test version, attached every electronic gee-whiz feature its engineers could muster – hence the $57,400 price tag.
First, the sport-ute added considerably to its use of high-strength steel and a new rear suspension to trim 275 lbs. from the previous MDX. It also dropped the vehicle’s dual exhaust in favor of a single pipe, cutting weight and engine noise.
The former 3.7-liter V6 also was replaced by a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 290 horsepower. That’s down just slightly from the earlier model, but with the weight savings you’ll never notice. Power is good and the ute gets reasonable gas mileage too for something that will haul 8 people. It’s rated at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. I got 21.7 mpg in about 60% highway driving. The engine’s variable valve timing helps it run more efficiently.
Acura mates the quiet V6 with a 6-speed automatic that shifts smoothly, but not as crisply as you might expect. It doesn’t seem to want to rev the engine up to provide tons of oomph. Still, you easily reach highway speeds.
Handling is good for a largish ute though, the SH-AWD, super-handling all-wheel-drive system, giving the MDX both good grip in sloppy weather and helping cut its turning radius. Steering feels much quicker than in most similar-sized utes. Continue reading 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD
Tiguan shows VW still struggling in U.S.
Ever since Volkswagen lost its way in the U.S. market, about the time it phased out the old Beetle, it has been struggling to regain its footing.
Nowhere is that struggle more evident than its small sport-utility offering, the Tiguan. VW’s small ute was restyled and remade a year ago and certainly showed improvement. It feels lighter and more fun to drive. The steering is among the sportiest of all small utes. Plus it offers a 200-horse 2.0-liter, I4 with a turbo. That SHOULD make it rock.
But there were issues with the silver mid-line SE 4Motion that I tested.
Mainly its engine and 6-speed automatic DSG transmission with the clutchless manual Tiptronic system did not work smoothly. Certainly the engine has the ponies. Flatten the gas pedal and it’ll jump to highway speeds like a champ.
But most of us drive in that 30-45 mph range a lot as we trundle to and from work. In that bracket the transmission gets balky, especially from 35-40 mph. It feels as if it’s holding the engine back, the car hesitates and transmission noise increases. I found myself languishing as I pulled away from stoplights and getting frustrated as the ute bogged as I approached 40 mph on suburban 4-lane roads. Some shifts even felt a bit jerky at times.
Tiguan also requires premium fuel to boost that turbo, yet the ute gets modest gas mileage. I got just 22.1 mpg while the EPA rates this at 20 mpg city and 26 highway. Consider, for instance, its competitor, the Mazda CX-5 with its efficient SkyActiv engine that boasts 24 mpg city and 30 highway. I got 27.3 mpg in the Mazda. That’s a big difference. Continue reading 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion
Santa Fe grows into large crossover with third row seat
Korean automaker Hyundai’s market share is growing in the U.S. market and its vehicles are getting larger too. It appears Hyundai has adopted the age-old American car strategy of not only expanding its offerings, but its vehicles’ dimensions.
Case in point, the new Santa Fe, what used to be a modest mid-size sport-utility truck, is now a large crossover. It’s heavy, 4,098 lbs. It’s long 193.1 inches. It has a large 3.3-liter V6 engine, and its gas mileage is mediocre at 18 mpg city and 24 highway.
I drove the GLS AWD model, meaning it has all-wheel-drive, which naturally adds some weight and cuts its gas mileage. But AWD does give Santa Fe some of its old sport-ute functionality. Outwardly the Santa Fe looks like most other large crossovers, not much to distinguish it. In fact, it looks more like a minivan now, but with outward opening rear doors instead of sliding van doors.
The crossover’s size means it now has room for a third row seat, which is split, and will fold flat in back to boost cargo capacity that otherwise is moderate. My test unit, a Night Sky Pearl (metallic blue/gray), had no power hatch, which seemed a bit odd at the asking price of $35,180. A power hatch is optional though. Continue reading 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD
Inexpensive new Patriot fills roll as soft-roader
I like the Jeep Patriot for what it is, an inexpensive sport-utility truck that’s available with four-wheel-drive.
In that, it’s simple and straight forward and has a much Jeepier look than its twin, the Jeep Compass. Let’s get this out of the way up front. Compass and Patriot are the same mechanically, but Patriot looks square and boxy like a Jeep, or the old Cherokee, and Compass is more rounded. Word on the street is that women buy the Compass in larger numbers and the Patriot is a guy buy.
The best line I’ve heard calls both soft-roaders, as they are less likely to be taken out in the muck than a Wrangler, with its high ground clearance and big off-roading tires. Indeed, these Jeeps are most likely to turn up roughing it at a soccer match or Pick N Save lot. Jeep will tell you both can be equipped to be Trail Rated and go off-road, but in reality, these are mainly Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V competitors.
And there, Patriot competes on price. The base front-drive Sport model starts at a modest $15,995, while the upscale Limited 4×4 lists at $25,895. I drove a “rugged brown” (metallic bronze) Patriot Latitude 4×4, which begins at $23,395. With options and a whopping $995 delivery charge mine was $26,055. That’s still moderate for a compact 4-wheeler. Note that the Compass is priced a bit higher. Continue reading 2014 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4
Upon further review … solid, but bulbous and not as refined as expected
Every once in a while I get to test a vehicle twice in a single year. It’s rare, but this week I had the 2013 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L with navigation, just one model year newer than the CR-V I had tested early last spring.
It confirmed my thoughts and observations, which cheers me that I didn’t miss the mark earlier. The good news, for the driver, is that this one was a pleasant Mountain Air (turquoise blue) color vs. the blah gray of the earlier model.
But, and I apologize if you feel you’ve heard some of this before, the CR-V remains a solid compact sport-utility vehicle with 5 more horses than the previous generation and a more rounded look. In fact, several friends and observers called the Honda’s rear-end ugly and too bulbous. It’s not attractive, but then few utes really are much more than boxes on wheels. Continue reading 2013 Honda CR-V